Tag Archives: table

The Episodic Table of Plot Elements

sitcomIf you have ever watched commercial programming on television you may already be aware of this, but sometimes the shows repeat plot points. Surprising but true. It generally works something like the instructions on a shampoo bottle:

  • Hire a core troupe of actors and put them in a setting, like a meat packing plant or a sewer treatment facility
  • Go through the episodic table of plot elements
  • After a certain period of time, usually 3-7 years, replace the actors and the setting, like the actuarial tables dept. at an insurance company
  • Rinse and repeat

When watching a show with my wife, within the first 30 seconds I’ll shout out the plot variation as soon as it is recognized. Trust me, she really loves this. “Oh, god, no!! It’s plot #42. Wacky birthing episode ending with a touching isn’t-that-thing-cute moment. I’ll be on the computer. Let me know when it’s over.”

Here’s a few excerpts from the episodic table:

  • A previously unknown family member of a main character comes to visit for a short time (father, mother, brother, sister, child, etc.)
  • A main character is extremely distressed because an extended family member gets engaged, married, divorced, is involved in adultery or illicit love affair and/or dies
  • Two main characters are involved in a marriage proposal, wedding, break-up, divorce, adoption, pregnancy and/or birthing

Even with those three limited examples from the table the possibilities are almost endless. I bet they could be used to generate over 500 specific plots. Mother and cousin come to visit. Father and sister die. Brother and niece get engaged. Mother pregnant, father having an affair. Father pregnant, mother having an affair. Yep, the permutations are practically unlimited.

When watching Northern Exposure the other day I noticed one of the rarer elements. “Looks like #138 coming our way,” I shouted. A mute traveling performer had been courting one of the main characters for several episodes. Sagely, I predicted, “I’ll bet the mute guy is moved to speak in a moment that will be especially poignant.” It was so touching, that I nailed it, I mean. My wife couldn’t have been more pleased.

The episodic table easily applies to movies, too. George Lucas, for example, often calls crap like this “notes” that are repeated across films, again and again and again and again and again. Did I mention again? To make this point I’ll now transport you from one galaxy far away to a make-believe land of medieval sex, violence and political intrigue. It won’t require that much suspension of disbelief.

Or, as I like to call it, “A Note Ripped From Star Wars By Game Of Thrones.” Introducing element #78: The Fake Greeting.
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The Urinal Problem

urinalToday we study a particular variation of the classic so-called Urinal Problem. For millennia great thinkers like Socrates, Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, Bill Gates and others have pondered the great mysteries of gentlemen’s restroom etiquette. Now it’s my turn to take the problem out for a spin.

The classic definition of the problem, of course, involves an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of urinals. It’s easy to see how a problem like that could humble even the greats. In a flight of hubris, even I once made the attempt, and was left humbled and feeling flushed.

For simplicity, we will closely examine a three-urinal subset of n and attempt to fully solve the problem variation.

Abstract. A man walks into a men’s room and observes n empty urinals. Which urinal should he pick so as to minimize his chances of maintaining privacy, i.e., minimize the chance that someone will occupy a urinal beside him? In this paper, we attempt to answer this question under a variety of models for standard men’s room behavior. Our results suggest that for the most part one should probably choose the urinal furthest from the door (with some interesting exceptions). We also suggest a number of variations on the problem that lead to many open problems.

Source: Springer Link – The Urinal Problem. The complete paper is available for purchase.

It was easy to theorize a solution for the three urinal-subset based on the process of elimination (no pun intended). This is also known as The Vizzini Gambit. (See: The Princess Bride.)

Clearly you should not choose the urinal in the center as the next visitor must choose one of the adjacent urinals. Thus, it is obvious that the solution must be one of the end urinals. But which one? Elimination only gets us so far.

As is often the case, field research is required to test theoretical constructs. And that’s where the shit hit the fan. (The results of that experiment are beyond the scope of this article.)
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On the twelfth dice of Christmas …

Congratulations! You are sitting at table eight!

Here is some late breaking news that Mrs. Abyss failed to share the first time she told me about her company’s Christmas party.

Woot. It’s an unexpected and serendipitous chance to talk about Christmas and dice again! 🙂

As a dice lover myself, even I thought this was outrageous. When employees arrived at the party a 12-sided die was rolled. The number shown on the die determined where the employee would be seated.

Now let me try to understand this. First the company told employees they could bring their spouses and significant others to the party but they would be charged $25. Now the company cruelly twists the friggin’ Christmas party and makes it serve double-duty as a bullshit touchy-feeling human-resources-style training event.

It’s the holiday season. Peace on Earth and goodwill towards people. To celebrate and show how much we care about you we’re going to randomize the seating to make your Christmas party meal as awkward and unpleasant as possible.

There is a time and place for that sort of thing and it is decidedly not the Christmas party! They are lucky I didn’t go. Would I have been forced to roll a die of my own and have a one-in-12 chance of sitting at the same table as my wife? I can only assume that yes, they’d be just that sick in the head.

Merry Christmas, ho ho ho! Whatever! Now roll them bones!